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December 4, 2017 - 12:33pm

Public hearing on Engine House redevelopment is cancelled

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, Batavia City Council, genesee county, Old Engine House.

Update: Monday, Nov. 4 -- 2:15 p.m.

Genesee County Manager Jay Gsell said that county legislators want to take a closer look at the county's downtown facilities before making a decision about the future of the Old Engine House.

"They want further discussion and also want to walk through the downtown buildings," Gsell said. "At this time it is best to slow down a little bit, (cancelling) the public hearing and in the aftermath of the City Council's reaction (to the proposal to redevelop the Engine House). Now is not the best time to move forward and ask for a million dollars if we don't have all of our ducks in a row."

Gsell said that he believes that more Restore New York funding will be available in 2018, and also mentioned outstanding funds from previous state and regional economic development initiatives.

He said that should Genesee County move to relinquish the Engine House, public defenders currently working there would be relocated (likely to the adjacent Genesee County Court Facility) and that facilties management employees would "move to the highway department (on Cedar Street) eventually anyway."

As far as Genesee County holding on to the building, Gsell said that it would need much renovation, noting that there is no close-by parking, no access to the second floor and that it is not handicapped-accessible.

"It should be mentioned that when the county purchased the property, it was the parking lot that was important (to serve the courthouse buidling)," he said. "The Engine House was an afterthought; a building that was bought through a tax lien from the city for $250,000 in 1996-97."

Previous story:

"I spoke with the county manager and at the present time the county is not prepared to dispose of the property."

With that statement this morning by Batavia City Manager Jason Molino, the public hearing scheduled for 5 o'clock this afternoon to consider a proposal to redevelop the Old Engine House has been cancelled.

When asked if Genesee County's change of heart puts an end to the idea of turning the former restaurant into a commercial/residential site, Molino would not offer any more information.

A call to County Manager Jay Gsell has yet to be returned.

At City Council's most recent meeting (Nov. 27), board members voted to set the public hearing for the application of a $1 million grant to redevelop the county-owned Engine House on Main Street.

The proposal was not eagerly received, however, as some council members questioned the process -- stating that they weren't given enough advance notification -- and one questioned the selection of Thompson Builds of Byron as the developer.

In a memo to Council, Molino reported that a Restore New York Communities Initiative grant was available for the project, but it could only be applied for by a city, town or village -- not Genesee County. The city manager also stated that the county was willing to declare the property as "surplus" and was on board with its redevelopment.

The plan, as outlined by Molino after discussions with the Batavia Development Corporation, Genesee County and Thompson Builds, was to convert the 14,425-square-foot buildilng for business use on the first floor and residential use on the second floor.

In the end, Council voted to set the public hearing, focusing on the prospect of returning the property to the tax rolls.

While it was reported that the building is vacant, it actually houses offices for the public defender (the Genesee County Court Facility is next door) as well as the shop for the county's facilities management divisiion, which also is in close proximity to key county-owned buildings.

Brian Graz
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One glaring point the County Mgr Gsell made [which I believe was also made in a previous report of the proposed project is quite basic and simple "there is no close-by parking". So how could this property be approved to house commercial as well as residential tenants when there if insufficient parking, or room to create necessary parking(?) included in the parcel? Wouldn't there be a zoning requirement for minimum parking per occupant?

Mike Pettinella
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Brian,
It was expressed that people would have to use the municipal parking on the other side of the courthouse.

John Roach
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Mike, that parking on the other side of the courthouse maybe would work, especially for a business. I would question if somebody who might rent an apartment there, at something like $1,500/month would want to have to walk that far. Personally, if I was paying that much (or more), I'd want to park much closer to my door.

Mike Pettinella
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Agreed.

Brian Graz
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IMO parking that far away is a non-starter, whether it's for an apartment or a business... ludicrous actually.

As I've already suggested, and I repeat... turn the Engine House into the new [mandated?] county jail. The county already owns the property, the basic infrastructure [water, sewer, etc] is already onsite, and the closeness to the courthouse would eliminate the excessive cost of law enforcement transportation of inmates for court proceedings, saving the county tons of money.

John Roach
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Brian, while your intention sounds good, that building would not be suitable for a new jail. It would not hold even as many inmates as the present one (which is why the State will be making us build a new one).

Brian Graz
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I kinda realized that... so renovate the current jail for just females, and add on to the Engine House, make it a high-rise, a Trump Tower of Incarceration.

No way, we will heed Albany's mandate and pay the big bucks for a new parcel of real estate, pay the big bucks of installing new infrastructure, and pay the really big bucks for a state-of-the-art country club of confinement.

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